Jewish World Review April 22, 2003 / 20 Nisan 5763
Don't mis-underestimate the prez: Give him the 'props' he deserves
"Don't mis-underestimate me," George W. Bush joked as a presidential candidate, making a mockery of those who mocked him. It's time for the president's critics to start taking him seriously.
Critics of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan mocked their intelligence, too, yet each was elected to two full terms and might easily have run for a third, had the Constitution not gotten in their way.
And, lest Republicans lapse into a smugness overload at that thought, it's important to remember that Bill Clinton did the same, despite the Right's relentless pillorying of him as "Slick Willy."
With his re-election campaign only months away, Bush has mastered the expectations game in ways that don't offer his opponents much to laugh at.
Think about it. He went into Iraq in ways his father would not have dared. He was opposed by the United Nations and most of our other traditional major allies other than Great Britain. He aroused astounding fear and contempt from most of the world's peoples, including Prime Minister Tony Blair's voters. Here at home, he had critics from the liberal left and the isolationist right protesting in the streets and barking at his heels.
And, as our troops patrolled the rubble of urban Iraq, Bush's justifications for pushing a pre-emptive, virtually unilateral strike against Saddam to the top of this nation's priorities still seemed remarkably murky. Weapons of mass destruction? Still looking. A link with al-Qaeda? Still looking for that, too. Plant the seeds of democracy? A worthy goal but is it achievable in Iraq? And why there? Why not topple one of the world's many other tyrants?
Yet, the carping of his more extreme critics does not explain Bush, either. He didn't invade Iraq just to avenge his father, nor was America "in this just for the oil." If oil was all we wanted, we could do what France did and simply buy it.
No, Bush always has seemed to have motives that were deeper and closely held. He did not articulate them as well as he showed you, with that gleam in his eye and that steady measured voice, as he repeated the same simple, one-syllable words, "good" and "evil."
This can seem rather chilling to those of us accustomed to a few more words from our leaders. But this Bush, admittedly un-athletic with grand words, is a man of action. He does not present himself as a grand thinker or talker, just a do-er.
The war in Iraq was his war in the same way that Vietnam became known as "Lyndon Johnson's war" or Kosovo as "Bill Clinton's war." Many of us were ready to pounce if he fumbled. It's only proper to give him his "props," which is what my teen-aged son's hip-hop friends call proper credit, when he takes the big risk and scores.
As my column-writing colleague Michael Kinsley wrote in an essay in the April 21 Time magazine, "If real leadership means leading people where they don't want to go, George W. Bush has shown himself to be a real leader. And he now owns a bit of history to prove it."
A leader? Well, that's going a little far, isn't it? We're accustomed to such inflated praise for Bush from conservatives, but coming from a known liberal like Kinsley, it reveals a crack in the Bush-is-a-Dummy front. Maybe it is no longer politically incorrect on the left to admit that Bush is not just lucky and just might have some smarts.
"All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time," said liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith back in 1977, not long after Jimmy Carter's election. "This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership."
If so, Bush, the man of action, came up with the right actions at the right time to confront without equivocation America's major anxieties after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Sure, he may not have established a convincing link between Saddam and Sept. 11. But, he kept mentioning both in speeches, sometimes in the same sentence. By January, a Knight-Ridder poll found 44 percent of Americans thought there were Iraqis aboard those hijacked planes on Sept. 11, when actually there were none. It was obvious that Bush's message had gotten across, even if he lacked some facts to back it up.
The question now, as anxieties about Iraq fade, is how well Bush will confront growing anxieties back here at home. The nation lost almost half a million jobs in February and March. Some 40 million people still don't have health care and the co-payments and other costs paid by the rest of us are still rising.
Bush's stumping for his controversial tax-cut proposal shows he is well aware of his father's mistakes in waiting too long after the first Persian Gulf War to become engaged with problems back home. With Iraq out of the way, and 19 months to go until Election Day, the Democrats might yet find their voice and confront Bush's policies head-on in a grand tug-of-war for the nation's votes. But, first, a word of advice: Don't mis-underestimate him.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment on Clarence Page's column by clicking here.
04/21/03: Sitting on scoops at CNN
04/15/03: After Saddam? Watch out, Syria
04/11/03: 'Hammer time' for Castro
04/08/03: Post-Hussein: Winning the true peace
04/03/03: Right story, wrong TV station
04/01/03: Remembering Moynihan's mind
03/27/03: A fog of war words: Shocking and awesome
03/21/03: A Moranic moment bites peace movement
03/18/03: Viewers beware when tv networks don't care
03/14/03: Powell's battle for Bush's ear
03/10/03: 'Embedded,' but not 'in bed with'
02/28/03: Bridging the black gender gap
02/19/03 Braun vs. Sharpton: A Dem dilemma
02/14/03: Bush's clean-up man
02/11/03: How feds fooled marijuana trial jurors
02/06/03: Time to re-think space shuttle's value
01/31/03: Why corporations like diversity, too
01/28/03: Shaq vs. Yao, a new world diss-order
01/23/03: Affirmative action will be remarketed under new name
01/13/03: Bond movie offers clues to Korea crisis
01/07/03: Dr. Frist to the rescue … of his party
01/02/03: Feeling a 'draft,' but not much
12/17/02: To rob a burning cross of its power
12/03/02: Closing black-white test-score gaps
11/19/02: Uncle Same wants your data
11/15/02: Marriage vs. 'player' impulse
11/11/02: How Oz can help the Dems
11/05/02: We reserve right to be complicated
10/22/02: What the pro-gun lobby and anti-gun lobby have in common
10/18/02: Take Sharpton seriously? For Prez??
10/15/02: A beauty and the bullies
10/08/02: Time to start 'fingerprinting' bullets
10/08/02: Poet laureate hater fell for Internet hoax
10/04/02: Keeping it real, despite howls from black 'leaders'
10/01/02: Revisiting the 'Jogger' horror
09/27/02: Sometimes freedom is a necessary nuisance
09/13/02: Foil Fidel with free trade
09/10/02: Measuring the myth of 'super weed'
09/06/02: A year later: A reality-check
09/03/02: Make better choices before some jury somewhere does
08/20/02: Bid farewell to the Cigarette Century
08/16/02: Rights matter, even in circus trials
08/09/02: Jousting with Rumsfeld's fog of wit
08/06/02: Covert action is cool again
08/01/02: Powell's premature obituaries
07/30/02: A common sense tip on internal snooping
07/18/02: Jacko plays race card badly
07/12/02: Last flight for a pioneer airman
07/08/02: Dems will miss Watts, too
06/28/02: 'Supreme Court reads polls, too
06/25/02: 'The Body' bites, then bows out
06/21/02: Punishment first, then the crime?
06/18/02: Reporting still risky for Haiti's press
06/14/02: Bush's security plan leaves large gaps
06/04/02: Fix FBI's culture gap first
05/28/02: Fidel's new apartheid for tourists
05/21/02: Now McKinney's lunacy sounds like the Democratic Party line
05/19/02: A paradox of historical proportions
05/14/02: 'Murphy Brown' revisited in age of Ozzy
05/10/02: America looks like a model of tolerance and inclusion
05/07/02: Forget it, Bill, you're no Oprah
04/26/02: Mapping out ethnic and racial change
04/23/02: A game of another color
04/19/02: It's high time to open up pot-law debate
04/11/02: 'Osbourne' family values rock, aging Ozzy quakes
03/22/02: Zimbabwe election leaves world sleepless
03/19/02: A slur? Where is thy sting?
03/15/02: A Pearl of wisdom for reporter's unborn son
03/12/02: Army race and gender policies on trial
03/08/02: A short list of losers to be left behind
03/05/02: Revenge of the 'mediasaurus'
02/26/02: Jihads aren't just for Muslims
02/26/02: It's hard to be 'objective' during wartime
02/19/02: Hollywood's new villain: Your HMO
02/12/02: Father of 'Manchild' leaves lasting message
02/08/02: $nookering the reparations crowd
01/31/02: Prisoners of a War of Words
01/29/02: One more Enron woe: Al Sharpton & company
01/25/02: Searching for slaves in bin Laden's attic
01/22/02: Andrew Young's newest 'friend'
01/08/02: Hard-earned lessons from 9-11
12/18/01: Whatever happened to questions about the birds and the bees?
12/14/01: The "White Negro" Taliban?
12/07/01: Jackson's turn to gloat
11/27/01: Friendly warning from a lover of liberty
11/21/01: The face of hunger is changing
11/15/01: Our troubled sense of trust
11/08/01: Lessons about terror from the 'hood
11/06/01: Getting used to the 'new normal'
11/02/01: Wicked ways to make them talk
10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
10/15/01: Self-censorship rises again
10/12/01: Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism
10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
10/01/01: Don't trash liberty to save it
09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
09/21/01: The war I was waiting for
09/17/01: When rage turns to hate
09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
09/06/01: U.S. should have stayed and argued
09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
08/31/01: Virtual kids? Log me out
08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
08/06/01: Not ready for 'color-blindness' yet
08/02/01: Immigration timing couldn't be better
07/26/01: Summer of Chandra: An international traveler's perspective
07/17/01: Overthrowing a régime is only the beginning
07/10/01: Big Brother is watching you, fining you
07/05/01: Can blacks be patriotic? Should they be?
06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks
© 2001 TMS